Trinidad Opts Out, But Water Pipeline Study Moves Forward

by Caroline Griffith

In an controversial procedural move, the Trinidad City Council held a re-vote February 9 about whether or not to participate in a feasibility study with Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD). The study, initiated by the Trinidad Rancheria to stabilize its water supply for future growth, would have looked into the costs and logistics of building a water pipeline to extend HBMWD services to the Trinidad area. The Rancheria has plans to build a controversial hotel and RV Park that is contingent upon having a reliable water source. Opponents of the project are concerned that the water pipeline will open up the area to development. 

The Trinidad City Council had previously voted January 26 to not participate in the study. According to Mayor Steve Ladwig, he brought the item back to council because of concerns that technological issues had prevented the council and the public from engaging in a thorough discussion of the issue. There was a storm the night of the original vote which left many in Trinidad without power and therefore unable to log onto the virtual meeting to make public comment. Members of the council also reported having connectivity issues during the meeting. 

After rehashing the previous discussion and hearing dozens of members of the public comment for and against the study, the council voted 3-2 to not participate. Concerns from the public and council included the potential price of the study (participating entities would split the cost) and potential for unchecked growth that would ruin the rural character of the area. Many members of the public spoke of a concern for the stability of Trinidad’s water supply, which currently comes from Luffenholtz Creek, but not all of them felt that bringing water from the Mad River was the answer; there were also suggestions to look into water catchment and storage as an alternative. The question of whether or not to provide water to the Rancheria last year triggered an in-depth look at the Trinidad water supply. The ad-hoc committee studying this found that during drought conditions the current water supply may be insufficient to meet existing customer needs. In fact, the City declared a drought condition in October of 2020 and asked customers to voluntarily conserve water. Opting out of this study will mean that the City may not be able to hook up to any potential pipeline in the future. As John Friedenbach, general manager of HBMWD said, “You can only push a certain amount of water through a certain sized pipe. This is your opportunity to look at it.”

Westhaven Community Services District (WCSD) also recently opted out of the study, which will still be moving forward. The McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD), the Trinidad Rancheria and HBMWD have all signed a Memorandum of Understanding to study the logistics of bringing water from the Mad River, through McKinleyville via MCSD infrastructure, and into the Rancheria. To do so would require laying new pipeline from HBMWD to MCSD, some of which may go through private property and would require easements. Part of the feasibility study will involve figuring out possible routes. HBMWD would need permission from the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCo) to expand its Sphere of Influence (SOI). 

The feasibility study and any subsequent pipeline construction may take a long time. Those who are concerned with environmental and developmental impacts will still have opportunities to comment when the project goes before LAFCo and the Coastal Commission, and when it goes through the CEQA process. Bryce Kinney, member of the Humboldt Alliance for Responsible Planning (HARP) who has been watching the hotel project, was optimistic about the decision. “We’re gearing up for the long haul,” he said. “A lot of things can change in 3 or 4 years. Trinidad could develop alternative water sources and if the (hotel) project were scaled down, the city may be able to provide water. Who knows?”